A year nearly to the day since I clicked “send” on my original online application, I’m slated to leave Lincoln on Sept. 5 for two years of Peace Corps service.
After last spring’s major glitch – as most of you know, I was supposed to leave for Tanzania in June, but, after I had quit my job and sold my house, those plans fell through – it seems this is actually happening.
My sector: Youth development
This program aims to help Morocco’s youths improve their lives and futures by stressing education, promoting career opportunities and focusing on health, fitness and nutrition. A major focus is placed on empowerment and education for girls and young women. I’ll be assigned to a “dar chebab” (youth center) or, inshallah, a women’s center where I can work with young adult women. It’ll be interested to put my feminist sensibilities and background in women’s issues to work in a Muslim country, knowing I must be sensitive rather than didactic.
At first my main task will be teaching English. As I become integrated into my community, I’ll begin looking for other possible programs for youths and young women, from offering job training to organizing athletics to finding ways for adults in my community to more actively support their young people. I can certainly visualize a journalism club! And maybe a hiking club if I end up in the mountains. But I’m trying my best to stifle any preconceived ideas and instead wait to hear what the youths themselves are interested in.
My two greatest fears.
1: Language. Morocco’s official language is Moroccan Arabic, a specific dialect known as Darija. Our three months of training involve four to six hours of Darija lessons a day, six days a week; then we’ll be expected to practice in our communities and with our host families.
Morocco is a former French protectorate, so French is also spoken in most urban areas. As a European-looking woman, I'll be assumed to be fluent in French. I’ve been trying to brush up on my 20-year-old college lessons, but it will be much cooler to speak in Darija.
Finally, when I learn my official site where I’ll be living for the two years after training, I may need to learn a third language. Especially in rural areas, Morocco is home to a significant Berber population, nomads who far predate Arabs/Muslims. So it’s entirely possible that I may need to learn one of several Berber dialects in addition to Darija and French.
2. Weather. When my Peace Corps recruiter originally asked where I wanted to go, the only parameter I put on myself was “nowhere cold – nowhere it snows.” Nebraska winters are one of the few things I dislike about my home state.
Turns out, while Morocco easily can hit 125-130 degrees F at summer’s peak, winters in any of its three mountain ranges can be just as brutal as here at home. Who knew?
Well, whaddayagonnado? It's all a good test of my abilities and strengths, and that Peace Corps mantra of "patience and flexibility."
Next up: Staging
The adventure begins with orientation Sept. 6-7 in Philadelphia. This is known as “staging,” when I’ll gather with the other new trainees, in Youth Development and Small Business Development, get a basic lowdown on Peace Corps policies and fill out tons of paperwork.
From Philly, we take a bus to New York, then board a direct, eight-hour flight to Casablanca. (Hard to believe my world can change so quickly.) Next, another bus down the coast to Rabat for a few days in a hotel while we get inoculations (hoping I’m already good on that front!), begin to learn about our program sectors and maybe even see a bit of the capital city.
From there, the intensive 11-week training program begins. My Youth Development colleagues and I will move to Azrou, a small city 2.5 hours east of Rabat. At our seminar site we’ll be immersed in language lessons, develop skills for our new jobs and learn how to adapt to a new culture. I’ll be living with a host family in order to further practice my language and cultural skills.
But we’ll also spend a certain amount of time in “community-based training,” traveling in small groups to villages where we can start on-the-job training in established “dar chababs,” or youth centers. It also means a second host family and a lot of back-and-forth travel.
Throughout the three months of training, I’ll face regular evaluations on my language and technical progress. Sometime in October, I’ll learn my permanent site for the next two years, and I’ll be sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer on Nov. 20 – two days after my 41st birthday.
Keep in touch!
Bookmark this blog! Even better, it’s easy to subscribe so you’ll know when I’ve written a new post.
I’ll be so eager for news from home, especially during the stressful training stage. Click the comments button under each post to leave me a note; you do so easily as “anonymous” if you don't want to create an account, but do let me know who you are in the body of your message.
Snail mail will be most welcome as well; see address in the sidebar to the left. I won’t be able to receive packages during training, unfortunately, but I’ll let you know my permanent address sometime in November, and then those care packages can start coming!
Email, of course, is free … so no excuses.
And to instant message me, I am beckijroberts on iChat and AOL Instant Messenger. (I don't pretend to know much about IM; if you need more information, let me know.)
I’ll be kept overwhelmingly busy during the three-month training period – it’s kind of like Peace Corps boot camp – so don’t be surprised if I’m not immediately responsive. But your comments, good wishes and news from home will mean the world to me.
It’s entirely possible, once I move to my permanent site, that I’ll have Internet at home. In the PC world, this is known as Posh Corps. But it also means I'll be able to keep in much better touch.
Thanks for your support!
Thanks to everyone who has been so encouraging as I've maneuvered this long process. I mean to make you proud.
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